Monday, August 24, 2009

Rising Sophomores -- Ten to Watch

The Big Jump
Common wisdom says the prime-time players (who don't jump to the league after their freshmen seasons...) take the biggest leap in their development during their sophomore season. I am not sure there is a single rule that dictates when a player makes his greatest strides. Some, like Dante Cunningham (Villanova, Class of 2009) and Hilton Armstrong (UConn, Class of 2006), see their roles grow with each season, but take the biggest (it seems) spurt in their senior season. Others make an impact their freshman seasons, but never seem to develop beyond that season (Edgar Sosa? Mike Nardi? Darryl Hill?). Like other "10 to Watch" postings, I am not listing All Big East Freshman Teamers, everyone knows who they are and will be watching/reporting on their every game. These overlooked ten might be on the threshold of a breakout season, or more likely solidify a starting spot on their team's roster. These players have a Big East season under their belts. They survived, put up some good (but not stud) numbers and are looking at opportunities to step into major roles with their teams this coming season.

On Offense...
A GibbsPitt25.9117.518.220.858.11.201.917.1
K JonesWVU48.1113.616.719.550.31.0210.723.7
C WrightGTown81.0107.821.922.
D DixonNati54.1104.119.220.545.40.986.433.3
J ClarkGTown45.1100.317.
K JosephCuse29.288.216.315.546.10.917.050.5

Ashton Gibbs and Terrence Jennings did not see the floor much at the start of the season. Gibbs was behind senior pg Levance Fields and sophomore Brad Wanamaker, while Jennings found Samardo Samuels and Earl Clark in front of him. Both worked themselves into the rotation by season's end. Jennings logged about 38% of the minutes at his position during the Big East season, while Gibbs spent July playing lead guard for his coach in the U19 World Championship Tournament in New Zealand, making up ground on the playing time he missed last season. Gibbs gained valuable experience he will be able to use early next season. He will split time and responsibilities with rising junior Brad Wanamaker and red shirt freshman Travon Woodall. Rutgers' Greg Echenique, efficient but under utilized on offense last season, will benefit from a distributor like transfer James Beatty at the point. Having a reliable 2nd and 3rd option on offense will work to All Big East Rookie teammate Mike Rosario's benefit, even if the gunner gets a few less touches. Darryl "Truck" Bryant is on this list even though he is currently suspended. Bryant, arrested twice within a one week period in June for (serious) traffic offenses, was suspended by Coach Bob Huggins, but has continued to live (and workout) in the Morgantown area over the summer. His 102.7 offensive rating is on the right side of 100, combined with possessions and shot percentages (%Poss and %Shot) above 21 suggest he can produce points (via shooting or assists) efficiently. His assist rate (Ast% -- 21.2) was top 400, though undermined by his high turnover rate (TO% -- 22.2) in a typically freshman sort of way. Given a full season that should improve (and help his ORtg, not to mention his team, considerably). Given both he and red shirt junior Joe Mazzulla (suspended in May, pending resolution on an unrelated assault charge), are both listed on West Virginia's latest roster, odds are excellent both will be re-instated before the season, if not by the Fall practice in mid-October.

On Defense...
Ashton GibbsPitt25.95.413.719.30.30.8
Kevin JonesWVU48.
Terrence JenningsVille26.511.63.816.313.72.3
Gregory EcheniqueRU70.720.64.516.88.11.5
Chris WrightGTown81.09.525.
Dion DixonNati54.19.712.516.30.81.4
Darryl BryantWVU63.76.721.
Jason ClarkGTown45.
K JosephCuse29.
Augustus GilchristUSF48.512.95.416.24.20.7

At 6-10 and 235 pounds Gus Gilchrist drew a lot of attention last season. With nearly 28% of the possessions and taking (just) over 30% of the shots when he was on the floor, he was taking a "Go-to Guy"-level role in the Bulls offense. But he was not converting possessions into points very efficiently (about .88 points per possession, below the Bulls team .95 ppp). I got the feeling Gilchrist wanted to play more #4 than #5, and with Jarrid Famous, a classic back-to-the-basket type #5 to bolster returning rising senior Alex Sanchez at the #5, Gilchrist may be able to play facing the basket on offense. For a real break through season however, in addition to improving his shot selection (and accuracy) Gilchrist will have to step up his rebounding. Though he had another year of eligibility, DaJuan Summers moved on, handing Hoya wing Jason Clark one of those opportunities to blossom. Georgetown needs rebounding under both baskets -- something Clark did not demonstrate an instinct for last season. Cincinnati's Dion Dixon on the other hand, will face very stiff competition for minutes. With redshirt freshman Cashmire Wright taking the point, All-Big East Teamer Deonta Vaughn will most likely move out to the wing. Between Vaughn and incoming wing Lance Stephenson, Dixon will have to produce early and often to secure a spot in the Bearcat rotation. Kris Josephs' situation at Syracuse bears similarity to both Gibbs/Jennings and Clark/Dixon. Like Gibbs/Jennings Joseph did not draw a lot of minutes in 2009, but the Orange lost 3 starters in the off season, virtually guaranteeing that Joseph will draw an opportunity to compete for a larger role with the team. But Joseph will get competition from transfer Wesley Johnson, red shirt freshman Mookie Jones and true freshman James Southerland.

And Then There's...
The Big East All Freshmen Team, Yancy Gates, Kemba Walker, Greg Monroe, Samardo Samuels, Mike Rosario and Devin Ebanks, will no doubt have great seasons. If all goes as anticipated, a few (Greg Monroe? Devin Ebanks?) will likely put in for the NBA draft next June.

DePaul's Jeremiah Kelly will draw more duty at the point this season, now that senior Jabari Currie has moved on. Currie was hobbled with turnover problems for his entire career, that Kelly could not move past him last season was disappointing. When Malik Boothe was sidelined with injuries last season Quincy Roberts was one of several freshmen who stepped into the breech. Less than stellar shooting was further undermined by turnovers. This season Roberts will compete with 2 more freshmen and a transfer for playing time (not to mention 3 returning players) in the back court/wing. I have closed an eye to playing time for a handful of rising sophomores, but Louisville's Jared Swopshire & George Goode, Georgetown's Henry Sims and Pitt's Nasir Robinson have too little playing time to project comfortably. Sims has about 20+% PT at his spot, with Swopshire, Goode and Robinson far closer to 10% than 20%. Of the 3 Robinson most likely has the clearest path to a secure spot in his team's rotation, but how successful he will become is uncertain (from the numbers). His best path to the Panther rotation is rebounding. Pittsburgh finds itself in the same boat as Connecticut, Louisville, Marquette and Villanova, it's best rebounders have moved on and the staff will give high marks to the players who grab the loose balls.

Many thanks for Ken Pomeroy. His website is an invaluable source for individual possession-based stats.

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